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Bristol selectmen choose incremental path for expansion of town’s solar power

By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Bristol Board of Selectmen chose a cautious approach to solar power for municipal buildings, passing on an option to apply for a $2 million grant that would have required taxpayers to kick in $100,000. Instead, the board agreed to apply for a $1.25 million grant for an array of photovoltaic panels that would supply just enough power to cover the electrical needs of the Bristol Water and Sewer Department. Both options would utilize $150,000 in water and sewer department funds as the local commitment to the project.
Bill Dowey, chair of the Bristol Energy Committee, brought the proposals to the selectmen on Sept. 11, outlining the costs and the potential savings of those options, as well as alternative options for power purchase agreements that would require no up-front cost to the town and provide a fixed rate for the purchase of power derived from a solar array on town property.
Selectman Betsy Schneider favored a power purchase agreement, or PPA, because the town would pay nothing and yet still reap the savings of low-cost solar power. According to Dowey's estimates, it would cost the town $1.53 million dollars over seven years for the electricity to power all of the municipal buildings in Bristol with the town ending up owning the solar array at the end of year seven. Over that period, the town would realize a savings of $2.23 million over the projected cost of electricity without solar power.
Alternatively, the town could enter into a 20-year PPA with a lower electric rate, but would have no ownership. Dowey calculated that the town would spend $1.95 million over 20 years, and would realize $1.12 million in savings.
Schneider questioned the estimates, but Town Administrator Michael Capone noted that Dowey's projections had been right on the mark for the solar array that was installed on the roof of the Minot-Sleeper Library. That system is so effective that the library is on track to have 3,000 KWH banked with Public Service of New Hampshire by the end of the year.
Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into direct-current electricity and inverters turn the DC power into the alternating current needed to power homes and businesses. During the summer, when solar production is at its highest, the panels typically produce more electricity than needed and that excess power feeds into the electrical grid, producing a credit that can be used during the winter when electrical demand may exceed solar production.
Schneider also was skeptical of industry projections for the life of solar panels. While they are said to last for 40 years, she pointed out that none of them have been on the market long enough for those estimates to be proven. She said the town is likely to incur maintenance costs if it owned the array, whereas if the town leased the land to a company that would operate the system, that cost would not fall on taxpayers.
Chair Rick Alpers said he felt that seeking a town-wide array would be perceived by the taxpayers as excessive. "Let's go ahead and pursue the grant, but also start down the track with a small project," he suggested. "We can already show that it works for the library. To sell it to the people, we need to start small, with the water and sewer department."
The NH Public Utility Commission is offering the grants and Dowey said that, with a $250,000 match, the town could seek a $2 million grant that would pay for an array that would power all municipal buildings and provide $3.54 million in savings over the projected life of the system. With a $150,000 match, a $1.25 million grant would build an array that would provide the power for the water and sewer department which would realize $1.66 million in savings.
Because the water and sewer funds are collected only from those on the municipal system, only the users — not other taxpayers — would be providing the matching funds for the smaller project. They also would be the only ones to realize the savings with the smaller project.
Grant applications are due on Sept. 19. Alpers answered Schneider's concerns about making a decision without the voters having a say by noting that, should the grant be approved, the selectmen could schedule a special town meeting to decide whether or not to go forward. "There's no obligation to accept the grant," he noted.
Schneider responded, "If we apply for the grant and get it, and then turn it down, it would hurt our chances down the road."
Selectman Janet Cote said she favored the smaller grant, saying there might be a change down the road that would provide greater cost savings.
From the audience, John Sellers commented, "You would get a $2 million grant with a $250,000 investment? That sounds pretty good to me."
Selectman Shawn Lagueux made a motion to authorize the energy committee to seek the $1.25 million grant and, if successful, to hold a public hearing on accepting the grant. The motion passed unanimously.
During public comment at the end of the meeting, Lucille Keegan, secretary of the energy committee, commented that, while she was happy the selectmen had gone for the grant, she was disappointed that they didn't go for the larger one.
"If we want Bristol to grow," she said, "we need to show we're on the cutting edge."

Last Updated on Saturday, 13 September 2014 12:14

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Myers: City hasn’t taken a position on affordability of new county jail

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers has written to John Thomas, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, to clarify a remark made at a recent meeting of the committee planning for the county jail suggesting that the City Council placed a $25-million price tag on the project.

When the committee met on Wednesday, Alida Millham, a former chairman of the Belknap County Convention, said that the City Council had indicated that the city could not bear its share of the debt service for a facility costing more than $25-million without exceeding the limits of the tax cap.

Responding to the report of the meeting in the Laconia Daily Sun, Myers stressed that the "the City Council has taken no position at this time on a figure it deems 'affordable' in regard to jail construction."

Instead, Myers explained that the council has limited the annual debt service for the city and school district to approximately $3.3-million. To gauge the impact on the city's debt service and annual budget, the council assumed the city would bear 20-percent of the cost of a project costing $25-million. "This was done strictly as a placeholder and for discussion purposes," he wrote.

Myers calculated that the city's share of principal and interest payments on a borrowing of $25-million with a term of 20 years at an interest rate of 4.25-percent would exceed $400,000 a year "in the beginning" and increase total annual debt service to more than $3.3-million "for several years."

The tax cap, Myers continued, applies to the annual city budget. In 2015, he explained that the county apportionment was projected to rise by $70,000, and any greater increase would compel the city to reduce appropriations elsewhere in either the municipal or school budget to comply with the tax cap. He concluded that a significant increase in county debt service would exceed the limits on the county apportionment set by the tax cap and require offsetting reductions in city and/or school expenditures.

In closing Myers repeated that the City Council has not specified what it "may deem as an affordable figure for jail construction and future jail operations" and added that it "has serious concerns over the impact of increased expenses and how they may affect Laconia's future budgets."

Last Updated on Friday, 12 September 2014 11:53

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City Hall area water to be shut off for 7 hours on Monday night

LACONIA — The meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday, September 15, beginning at 7 p.m., will be held at the Weirs Community Center, not City Hall as originally posted.

The venue has been changed because the water will be shut off in part of the downtown , including City Hall, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Monday, September 15. Seth Nuttelman, superintendent of the Laconia Water Works explained that water service be interrupted to enable R.M. Piper, Inc., the general contractor for the Main Street Bridge project, to connect the water main on the north side of the span.

City Hall as well as the Busiel Mill and Belknap MIll will be without water Monday evening. In addition, businesses on the west side of Main Street south of the intersection with Pleasant Street will be without water along with the Soda Shoppe, the adjacent building immediately to its north and all those to its south.

Last Updated on Friday, 12 September 2014 01:13

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AutoServ loses 2010 property tax battle with Tilton but vows to keep fighting 2012 assessment

TILTON — After three years of litigation and a two-day bench trial, Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler has denied a request for a property tax abatement made by the owners of AutoServ of Tilton for the year 2010. The ruling was issued yesterday following a two-day trial in July in the Belknap County Superior Court.

The owners had said that their $4,811,100 property value assessment for tax year 2010 was too high and they felt the value should have been closer to $3,308,000.

The land and building of AutoServ Tilton is owned by Paul Sr. and K. Brigid Gaudet. The business is also managed various family members, including children Paul Gaudet, Jr. Dennis Gaudet and Donna Gaudet Hosmer.

Smukler's opinion was largely based on the fact that the town of Tilton offered expert testimony and the Gaudet's, while quite knowledgeable about the car business, were not licensed assessors or appraisers and did not provide "expert" testimony to boost their case.

In an abatement case, the burden of proof lies with the petitioner, in this case the Gaudet family.

"We know market value but since we're not appraisers, we couldn't get it in as testimony," said Donna Gaudet Hosmer yesterday in response to Smukler's ruling.

The 2010 assessment was determined in 2009 when the town hired Avitar Associates and they conducted an update. When the owners challenged the assessment, the assessor, Loren Martin, reviewed her work.

She testified in July that she examined the physical location of the property (just off Exit 20 from I-93) as well as the building as it was in 2010, taking into consideration the general area and the values of similar surrounding properties. She said the greatest and best use for the building was commercial.

Martin said she reviewed her assessment primarily by using the "sales" approach — or by finding "comps", or sales of properties with characteristics similar to those of AutoServ Tilton.

She used the sale of Laconia Harley Davidson in Meredith and determined a square foot value of $183.45. A second property used by Martin was a Subaru dealership in Keene that sold in 2008 at a square foot value of $117.51.

A third property was a car dealership in Nashua that sold in 2010 for $115.24 per square foot, a fourth property in Manchester that sold in 2009 for $166.39 per square foot and a fifth car dealership in Plaistow that sold for $132.68 per square foot.

Martin said she concluded that the Manchester sale and the Plaistow sale represented the closest comparison to AutoServ Tilton based on their use and features and came up with a value for AutoServ of $128.95 per square foot.

She said she also factored in a "cost" approach and determined the fair value for AutoServ in 2010 was $6 million. Assessed for $4.8-million in 2009, Martin testified she felt the property was undervalued for that year.

The Gaudets said that their property could not have sold for more that $3,400,000 in 2010 and that because it drops off sharply to the Winnipesaukee River, it has limiting characteristics that the others did not. Paul Gaudet also said under cross-examination that he hadn't attempted to market the property in the past five years.

During their testimony, the Gaudets said they were involved in ownerships of other properties in the area, that they understood property and value, but ultimately couldn't provide any expert opinion regarding why their abatement should be granted.

Paul and Dennis Gaudet each testified that the assessment of their business in 2010 should have taken into consideration the economy at the time of the assessment. They noted that car sales dropped to near record lows throughout the country and that many car dealers were forced to close.

They acknowledged under cross examination that at AutoServ Tilton they didn't loose any of their franchises and were able to survive the economic downturn -something Gaudet Hosmer said yesterday that the town should have taken into consideration.

"We are a good corporate citizen," she said, adding that she and her family were very disappointed at the lack of accommodation offered to them from the town of Tilton. "This is our home."

"I'm very disappointed at the way this played out," she continued. "The methodology was flawed. They didn't take into account the state of the economy."

Gaudet Hosmer said at one point during the mediation portion of the three-year battle, her family and Tilton Selectmen Katherine Dawson met and came up with a solution that was agreeable to all parties.

She said that because a second town selectman was unable to attend the mediation because of car problems, the Board of Selectmen rejected the agreement her family reached with Dawson, forcing them to go to trial.

"They pulled out. Said they weren't going to do it," she said.

"I'd like to know what they spent on legal fees," she said yesterday, noting that the amount the town spent fighting a good corporate family business was probably more than the amount of taxes the town got by fighting them for so long.

"We firmly believe we're paying more than our fair share," she said.

The Gaudet family has filed for a second abatement for 2012 property taxes, also in Belknap County Superior Court.

Gaudet Hosmer said they will continue with that lawsuit and this time will pay the $5,000 they need for a professional appraiser.

"We are not withdrawing the new lawsuit," she said.

Last Updated on Friday, 12 September 2014 01:10

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